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Sex workers have been fighting for their right to work, for respect and justice for a very long time. “They’re fierce fighters because their jobs demand perspicacity, persistence, and a kind of emotional ruthlessness to persevere. These skills have also made sex workers canny political activists, contrary to the stereotype of disempowered victims in need of moral rescue. Sex Workers Unite! tells stories about sex workers who have fought for dignity and human rights from the 1960s to today, documenting a global movement for self-determination that is as multifaceted as the sex industry and as diverse as human sexuality.”
—from the introduction

Fifty countries treat sex work as legitimate labor and it has been legalized (with restrictions) in eleven others. The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that continues to criminalize prostitution and, as Melinda Chateauvert reveals, these laws have put sex workers at risk. Documenting five decades of sex-worker activism, Sex Workers Unite puts prostitutes, hustlers, call girls, strippers, and porn stars in the center of civil rights struggles. Although their presence has largely been ignored, sex workers have here been recast as key activists in struggles for gay liberation, women’s rights, reproductive justice, union organizing, and prison abolition. By foregrounding labor, Chateauvert reframes sex work as work and argues that sex-worker rights are ultimately human rights.

Reviews and Praise:

“This is an important book—not only for understanding the history of the movement but also for debunking myths about sex workers.” —Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former US surgeon general

“From the movement’s beginning with street-walking cop-fighting trans women at Stonewall at Compton’s Cafeteria through feminist betrayal and the AIDs crisis all the way to today’s sex work activists and artists who make this labor visible, Sex Workers Unite is a fact-driven, street-smart history. This book is crucial.” —Michelle Tea, author of Valencia

“In this definitive history, Chateauvert recounts the many challenges and successes of the sex workers’ rights movement, and shows us how much farther we have to go to guarantee everyone’s fundamental rights to sexual privacy and self-determination.” —Anthony D. Romero, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union

“With a historian’s eye for the illuminating detail and the street fighter’s passion for her cause, Melinda Chateauvert offers a sassy journey through the worlds of ‘Working Girls and Boys,’ black, brown, and white, trans, gay, and straight. Against rescuers and abolitionists, Sex Workers Unite recovers the collective action and labor organizing of sex workers for better conditions, living wages, cultural freedom, and social justice.” —Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California Santa Barbara and co-editor of Intimate Labors: Cultures, Technologies, and the Politics of Care

Publishers Weekly – October 14, 2013
“[Chateauvert’s] portraits of individual activists and advocacy groups are well drawn, proving that humanization through story, not philosophical debates about personhood and privacy, will win this campaign . . . Chateauvert makes a strong case that ‘engaging in sexual commerce should not be grounds for disenfranchisement.”

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